Friday, July 31, 2015

JBL LS305 with Roland Duo-Capture EX

Haven't touched music in the last few months thanks to my move to Vancouver, BC! Only finished furnishing my place last weekend, and only got the final bits of my music setup, the audio interface, this evening.

The last year in Adelaide, I'd gone with a Komplete Audio 6 with Presonus Eris E5 monitors. Unfortunately, the E5 were only for 220V, and not suitable for use in Canada. I'd also think shipping a pair of 300-ish dollar monitors would not be worth it, so I sold them both when I left.

I was going to buy another pair of E5s here as I really enjoyed them, but decided to try something else, and got the LS305. They appear to hit the correct price/performance sweet spot. There were some Adam F5s around, but while I really love them when I last tested them, they are just too expensive for justify. In the end, I'd ordered the LS305 from Amazon last Friday. Even with the free shipping option, they somehow turned up on my doorstep 3 days later, on Monday! I was like (o.0) as I didn't expect them so soon, and haven't had a chance to really look up which audio interface to get.

The Komplete Audio 6, for some reason, costs almost a third more here in Vancouver than Adelaide, and that's before the sales tax included! In any case, I was really looking more for a pure DAC than an audio interface as I haven't recorded through my audio interface in over a year. Plus, I don't even have a mic. (Er... crap. I really don't have a mic. I was planning to record some irish whistle. oh well.).

Unfortunately, most USB DACs appeared to be for the hi-fi audience, with only RCA outputs, so after a few hours of hunting, I went back to looking at regular audio interfaces.

The entry level audio interfaces only had RCA outputs. I was going to go with them - never used RCA before, so might as well try it. My main concern was hum and interference, but after choosing the LS305, that option was taken away, as it only has balanced (1/4 and XLR) inputs.

The cheapest interface I could find was the Mackie Blackjack, which I'd used several years ago and was a delight to use. However, stock was nigh impossible to find, and Tom Lee music said it was a special order, and could take up to two weeks to arrive, if the Mackie dealer had stock.

I then decided to look at the other interfaces they had. I'd visited them 3 times before, and more or less knew what they had, and I was going to pick maybe the Focusrite 2i4 (again) or Steinberg CI2, when my eyes fell on a small Roland interface I'd never noticed before (the packaging is very new!), the Duo-Capture EX. Was in my budget, had xlr outputs, a quick google for reviews indicated it's not too bad, so I bought it.

Setting it up in the evening, I realized that it's not class compliant. GRRAAAH! Which means I had to install drivers. Apart from the Focusrite VRM Box, I'd been always using class compliant devices. It's not an issue really, it's not like I'm going to be running linux nowadays - it's just I hate the idea of the manufacturer no longer updating drivers for future versions of OSX and having to buy another audio interface. I then remind myself, I have no idea where I'll be in a year, and probably will be selling it when I move to my next job.

After the drivers were installed, it proceeded just like any other audio interface I've used. What's interesting though - maybe it's because its using drivers - is that I can control the volume of the speakers through OSX's usual volume slider. The other interfaces I've used had the volume slider disabled, and only controllable on the audio interface. I personally have little use for that slider if I have an audio interface, just something I'd noticed.

If there was anything I would like to pick on the Duo-Capture EX, it's that the volume control could be bigger. I really enjoyed using the big knobs on the Focusrite 2i4 and KA6. The Mackie blackjack also had a similar small knob, but IIRC, it's slightly larger, and much smoother to operate. The volume knob on the Roland has a bit more resistance, and doesn't give the slick feel the other interfaces have. But. It works, and it works great. 

The speakers, I've only had them for a few hours and it's nigh impossible to say how good they are or not. But I must say initially, testing some of my favourite test tracks featuring pizzicato bass told me that this speaker has the deepest bass of all the monitors I've owned.

 This LS305 is also the first speaker I've bought that has a bass port on the rear; usually the places I've rented do not have enough space for the speakers to be placed far enough from the wall for rear ported speakers, and have had to always pick front ported speakers. This current place I'm renting is actually very small, but it's a perfect rectangle, so it affords me more layout choices.

I'm digressing. The bass response was the first thing I've noted. Then I noticed that some of my oft listened tracks appeared to be different. Like something was missing (?!). After a closer listening, it's because there is a lot of depth to the speakers, I could really hear instruments in front vs those in the back.

The E5 OTOH, from my memories of a time months ago, in a totally different room in another continent, was much more up front and exciting. The LS305 is much smoother, the high end purer, and, dare I say it, makes orchestral and acoustic pieces really sing. Pulling up some pieces by Carbon Based Lifeform reinforces my opinion that the LS305 has much more depth to the pieces. I need time for the ears to accept hearing things in the background and things closer.

Another thing I checked out was to listen to my own pieces. I've noted that the pieces I mixed on the E5 sound rather muddy now - but the pieces I've mixed on the Yamaha MSP5s, and even headphones + vrm box with the JBL On-Tour Micro sound as I'd expected.

While this post might point to the E5 being not-so-good comparatively to the LS305, I would like to remind the reader that I had a totally different audio interface, totally different room from what I have now, and I've only used the speakers for a few hours. Perhaps if the E5 and KA6 were in this room I'm in, they would totally blow away the LS305, who knows.

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